Majeed Waris is glad he went on loan from Russian Premier League giants Spartak Moscow to Ligue 1 relegation strugglers Valenciennes. He is enjoying his time in France, because he is finally getting regular playing time and scoring again.
Ten matches into his French voyage, the 22-year-old Ghana international has scored six goals - including the winner at Evian on Saturday - making him the drop-dwelling side's top scorer already.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to come here and develop, and I thank Spartak for letting me go out on loan,” Waris tells FourFourTwo.
- Date of birth: September 19, 1991
- Place of birth: Tamale, Ghana
- Height: 5ft 7in
- Previous clubs: BK Häcken, Spartak Moscow, Valenciennes (loan: 10 apps, 6 goals)
- National team: Ghana (9 caps, 4 goals)
Waris chats to us in his new apartment. Though he can’t speak the language yet and his team-mates don't understand English, they all understand one universal language – avoiding relegation.
Despite winning their last two matches, Valenciennes are two points from safety in the Ligue 1 drop zone, but Waris is confident he can help them stay up.
“At this point in time, every game is very important - it's all about getting the three points,” he admits.
The young striker, who was dominant in Sweden in his second season with BK Häcken, is also confident Ghana will advance from a tough group in Brazil that includes European powerhouses Germany and Portugal, along with the USA - a country his Black Stars have never lost to at any stage of FIFA tournaments.
“Yes, people talk about this a lot,” Waris says. “We have a good chance. When we come up against all of these teams, that’s when everyone steps up their game similar to when we played Egypt [and won 6-1 in their play-off first leg back in October].
Waris has proved Ligue 1's most inspired January signing
We have a good chance. When we come up against these teams, everyone steps up their game similar to when we played Egypt
By this point you may be asking yourself who Waris actually is. Until now, he was the Black Stars' secret weapon. But now, with his consistent goalscoring performances in France, he’s claimed a spot on the plane to Brazil and will likely be a target for opponents.
The small striker, built like Sergio Aguero, says the Argentine is one of a handful of strikers he watches and learns from thanks to his success in the Premier League.
Waris was named the Swedish top flight's best player in 2012, after finishing as the league's top marksman with 23 goals in 29 games for a relatively small club.
His goal-getting exploits caught the attentions of Spartak, and in 2013 they signed him to a four-year contract. One issue, however, was that the Russian club were already flooded with established strikers. When Waris arrived in Moscow, Spartak’s strike force comprised of Artyom Dzyuba, who had been with the club since 2006; Emmanuel Emenike, who averaged a goal every two matches; and Yura Movsisyan, an Armenian-American who was also performing well.
At times I felt that I needed more games. I was lacking patience but the club kept their faith in me
Unsurprisingly, young Waris’s pitch time was limited. It was something he was not accustomed to, and as a young player he didn’t understand it.
“At times I felt that I needed more games,” he admits. “I was lacking patience but the club kept their faith in me. You know you’re working really hard but you’re not getting games, because other strikers are playing well and scoring.”
That didn’t affect his relationship with the seasoned strikers, though. He took the advice from his competition on how to develop, and became close with the senior players rather than distant.
“We have a great relationship, especially with Emmanuel [Emenike] - he’s like a big brother to me. Yura [Movsisyan] always told me, 'you just arrived, this is a big club and you have to take your time',” Waris confesses.
Waris was on his holidays in Ghana before his January move, since the Russian League was on a break. When he was informed Valenciennes were interested, he took on the challenge because it was a club that had tracked his progress since his time in the Allsvenskan.
“Valenciennes had been following me for some time, even when I was in Sweden they wanted to sign me,” he says. “When they knew I wanted to play some games, they showed interest in me again.”
Though the loan move happened quickly, he acknowledges the initial difficulty in getting the deal done because of the two clubs' notable size differences. But it was something he wanted to do and was happy when they ironed out the details on his deal, which runs until the end of the season.
Waris (No.17) lines up ahead of Ghana's first-leg demolition of Egypt
When Waris arrived in France, he was thrown right into the thick of things. He hit the ground running, because Valenciennes lacked goals and needed boatloads of them to stay up.
On his debut, Waris took on Bastia defender Sebastien Squillaci, once of AS Monaco, Sevilla and Arsenal, to score Valenciennes’ third goal in an important 3-2 win. It helped register his club’s first back-to-back wins in Ligue 1 this season. Unsurprisingly, goals in his last two games have helped his side repeat the feat
Waris scored a late winner against Nice - only Valenciennes' fifth victory of the campaign - and bagged both goals in an unfortunate 2-2 draw at home to Sochaux.
With his goals and flashes of brilliance against PSG too, Waris is the revelation of the January transfer window in the French league and his game can only improve with more playing time.
“It's something I have been working really hard for,” he says. “When I came to France, I knew how important it was to continue working really hard. I took the opportunity when I got it.”
Although he now has nine appearances and four goals for the national team, Waris understands the opponents in African qualifying are not the same as Germany or Portugal. The latter boast the planet's greatest player in Cristiano Ronaldo, after all.
He anticipates that defenders in Ghana’s group will be tougher than some of the players he has faced in France, Sweden or Russia, but is revelling in the new challenge and expecting the Black Stars to advance from a difficult group.
I don’t think the USA have a chance of getting a win against us. We will fight for what we want
At the 2010 World Cup, Ghana played two of the teams in their 2014 group; Germany and USA. The Ghanaians lost narrowly 1-0 to the former four years ago in Johannesburg, and Waris says the focus this time will be even stronger because everyone understands what is at stake.
“Everyone will be well prepared and will work extra hard,” he declares. “It’s in these moments when we bring out the best in each other. We have a big chance of qualifying.
Waris goes along with the record that Ghana have never lost to the United States at any level - and insists it will remain intact in Brazil.
“I don’t think they have a chance of getting a win against us,” the youngster shrugs. “We will fight for what we want. I think we are going to beat them - it won’t be easy but we will win. It won’t be a big scoreline.” For Ghana, though, it doesn't need to be.